Egyptian man next to portrait of a parliament candidate
Cairo - Arab Today
Egyptians begin voting Sunday for a parliament expected to step firmly in line behind President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has crushed all opposition since ousting his Islamist predecessor in 2013.
The much-delayed election -- the previous assembly was dissolved in June 2012 -- will be in two phases between October 18 and December 2.
Former army chief Sisi won the 2014 presidential election despite having no political party of his own, and insists he has no political allies.
But experts say most of the more than 5,000 candidates overwhelmingly back him.
"They will not oppose President Sisi's policies. They want to stay close to him as he is at the heart of the regime," said Mustapha Kamel al-Sayyid, professor of political science at Cairo University.
Political expert Hazem Hosny agreed: "This parliament will be a parliament of the president.
"It's really a parliament... to keep things as they are, to give an image of democracy," he said.
The turnout at a recent campaign rally in Qena south of Cairo highlighted the popular mood.
Many Egyptians tired of political turmoil since the 2011 ouster of veteran leader Hosni Mubarak support Sisi, who has vowed to restore stability amid a deadly crackdown targeting supporters of Mubarak's successor.
Sisi has urged a large turnout, saying that "active participation of all segments of the society is important for the election", a presidency statement said on Tuesday.
While still army chief, Sisi toppled the Islamist Mohamed Morsi -- Egypt's first freely elected leader -- on July 3, 2013 after mass street protests against his divisive year-long rule.
An ensuing government crackdown targeting Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement -- which had swept all elections since Mubarak's fall -- left hundreds dead and tens of thousands imprisoned.
The Brotherhood has now been blacklisted as a "terrorist organisation" and its members banned from contesting elections.
Hundreds including Morsi himself have been sentenced to death after mass trials the United Nations denounced as "unprecedented in recent history".
Scores of policemen and soldiers have also been killed in jihadist attacks since the crackdown began.
- No real opposition -
Voting for the new parliament, the first since Morsi's ouster, will take place in the absence of any real opposition. Several secular and leftist movements which have also been targeted in the crackdown are boycotting the election.
The post-Morsi constitution empowers parliament to move a no-confidence motion against the president and also gives lawmakers 15 days to review all presidential decrees.
But Carnegie Center researcher Nathan Brown said parliament's "ability to use them might be close to zero if the elections result in the fractured and non-ideological parliament so widely expected".
More than 27 million people across 14 of Egypt's 27 provinces are eligible to vote in the first phase over two days from Sunday.
Egyptians living overseas vote on Saturday.
The second phase in the remaining provinces begins on November 21, with more than 28 million eligible voters.
The 596-member parliament will include 28 presidential appointees, with the rest elected under a complex system of independent candidates and party lists.
The electoral system "is known to favour individual candidates who have built tribal and family networks at local levels and not parties," said Paris-based researcher Nathalie Bernard-Mougiron.
"We could see a strong return of Mubarak regime figures who are well-versed with this system and who have enough resources at the local level."
State-run daily Al-Ahram has reported that nearly half the candidates were in Mubarak's now dissolved National Democratic Party.
"The corrupt have been excluded, but it would have been unfair to reject three million former party members," said journalist Mostafa Bakri.
He is a candidate with pro-Sisi coalition For Love of Egypt, which hopes to win two-thirds of the seats.
The Egyptian Front led by Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last premier, is another key coalition, and the openly pro-Sisi Salafist Al-Nur party that backed Morsi's ouster is the only Islamist party standing.
Leftist and other secular parties lack popular support and have little chance.
"We will not achieve anything positive in this election as we are heading towards an authoritarian regime," said Zyad El-Elaimy, ex-MP with the Social Democratic Party fielding 77 candidates.